February 12, 2021

“Hmm, let me ponder that thought just a little more.”

A student recently suggested I do a Friday Food For Thought about over-thinking. I said, “yeah, that’s a topic I have been mulling over for a while.”  In this instance, “a while” being several years.  Isn’t this ironic?  Over-thinking about writing a blog about the topic of over-thinking.

I have come to recognize my own tendency to fall prey to this all too common habit.  And yes, it can become a habit.  Our behavior, over time, creates habits, and over time, our habits create our behavior.  So, we make our habits and then our habits make us.  The challenge is changing the patterns to our behavior.  Overthinking can be a real challenge.  I can relate to this all too well.  

This is an article on the topic I have found helpful:

The article mentions that over-thinking does not lead to insight. In other words, merely spending more time mulling over something, or someone, does not lead us to have new, deep insights.  Sometimes it can rob us of potential insights. In fact, over-thinking has a strong connection to worrying.  (I remember when I was in high school my mom saying, “worry is like sitting in a rocking chair, it might give you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”  

Over-thinking is often a companion to anxiety and depression.  While one cannot just will away clinical anxiety and/or depression, there are some steps we can take to begin the process of decreasing one’ habit of over-thinking.  

Rumination –To keep mulling something over and over. We even have a cool term for over-thinking!  There is also a term for when we spend time thinking about thinking.  The word is meta-cognition – thinking about thinking.  Being able to create the space for thinking about thinking can be invaluable to recognize our own mental models, patterns of behavior, biases, and the occurrences of over-thinking.

Over-thinking can lead us to feeling anxious and can be a huge consumer of our time.  Over-thinking tends to keep us from living in the moment. 

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

― Lao Tzu

You can’t be two places at once, and yet we attempt to dwell on the past and worry about the future, all while trying to get today’s demands accomplished.  This is actually trying to be three places at the same time!

As much as I have tried at times, I have never been able to fix the past.  I am learning to let go of what was, and embrace acceptance of what is.  Reminiscing is nice, once in a while, but done to the extreme will overwhelm you with regrets, second thoughts, a longing for “the good old days” along with apprehension of what might come to be. 

All of this robs us of the present moment, which is all we really have.  A helpful reminder for me comes from the words of Andy Dufresne, “It comes down to a simple choice, get busy living or get busy dying.”

The following is a quote someone shared with me several years ago that really smacked me awake.  

I have reminded myself of this concept often.  I even had the word curiosity as one of my words for the year a couple of years ago.   (By the way, my words for 2021 are patience and hope).  So, replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.  (the topic of curiosity is another future topic for this blog, stay tuned!)

Does any of this have any connection to HRD and organizational life?  You have probably heard the phrase, “Analysis paralysis”.  We often hear this associated with decision making and the fear of not having enough data, the fear of making a bad decision, of wanting to conduct one more survey, to hold one more focus group.  We ruminate about past mistakes and missed opportunities.  We long for some of the past’s successes.  We worry about the survival of the organization, fraught with fear and apprehension.  Sound familiar?  Not only can we as individuals find ourselves over-thinking, our organizations can fall prey to the same pitfall.

It is in fact a very timely topic, as evidenced by an article from this week’s Harvard Business Review online.

The short article is filled with helpful leadership tips on the topic of overthinking. 

Another resource that I love is the book, Decisive:  How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

I will close with a few of the lyrics from Carly Simon’s classic song, “Anticipation”

“We can never know about the days to come, but we think about them anyway”

So I’ll try and see into your eyes right now and stay right here ’cause these are the good old days

These are the good old days, right now, today, in this moment.

Have a great weekend

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